The secrets to successful (spectacular) salads

By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet
“For me, making a salad is as much as a joy as eating one.” -Alice Waters

This is the time of year that I crave salads. I can’t get enough of the fresh yummy flavors after a winter of braising and heavy dishes. Some folks find that making a really great salad can be intimidating but honestly it is quite easy. There are a few simple tips to making successful salads. Try to use as many “in season” and local veggies as possible. The fresher the veggies and greens the better it tastes. (Remember those tasteless iceberg salads from days of old?) Sprinkle a few toasted nuts, chopped herbs and some goat cheese on your salad and you will make any salad special. Edible flowers also add a lovely extra dimension.

I also highly recommend you make your own salad dressings. I keep about 3 different homemade salad dressings in the fridge at all times. They are incomparable in flavor and are not loaded with preservatives that you can’t pronounce. Homemade dressings bring a bowl of ordinary greens to life.
When you get in a rut, look up some new recipes and give them a try. Also remember that whatever you cooked last night goes great on the salad. For example; one night we roasted a free range chicken and some root vegetables. For lunch the next day, I had pre-made salad with roasted chicken and roots on it with a garlic vinaigrette. Incredible.
The most important thing with salads is to be imaginative and experiment. They are not rocket science. Have fun! I thought I would share some of my favorite simple salad dressings with you to get you inspired.

Garlic Herb Vinaigrette
This one can be easily modified by using whatever herbs you have on hand.

3-4 tablespoons of really good cider vinegar
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon of Dijon-style mustard
½ cup of olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped
3 -5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup of fresh parsley leaves
½ cup of fresh tarragon leaves
½ teaspoon of sea salt
Black pepper to taste

In a blender, add the vinegar, lemon juice and mustard and blend for a few moments. With the blender low, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream so it will emulsify. Toss in the chopped shallot, garlic and herbs and blend some more. Add the salt and pepper to taste. This can last for a long time in the fridge.

Balsamic vinaigrette
The type of vinegar you use will make a huge difference in this dressing. Getting an aged balsamic vinegar from Italy is always a good bet. “The Gourmet Garlic Company” has some great ones.

3-4 Tablespoon of a good aged balsamic vinegar
1-2 tablespoons of agave syrup or sugar
1 teaspoon of herbs de provence
1-2 garlic cloves minced
½ cup of olive oil
½ teaspoon of sea salt
A few cranks of black pepper

Throw everything except the olive oil in a blender and blend for a second or two. Then, while the blender is on low, slowly drizzle in the olive oil in a steady stream so it will emulsify. Adjust the seasonings and enjoy! You can also put all the ingredients in a glass jar and shake up but I like to do it in the blender so that it is creamy.

Shinning Star Berry vinaigrette
My all time favorite salad dressing. Use whatever berry is in season but my favorite is blueberries. This dressing is fantastic on a bed of greens, chopped green onions, berries, feta cheese and roasted almonds.

1 cup of berries, washed
1-3 tablespoons of agave syrup
Or sugar (depends on how sweet the berries are)
1 large shallot, chopped
¼ cup of chopped fresh basil or rosemary
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
7 – 8 tablespoons of a very good quality balsamic vinegar
½ cup of olive oil

Toss the berries, sugar and shallot into a blender and whip until smooth, then add the basil, garlic and vinegar and blend again till smooth. While the blender is still going slowly add the oil and then let it blend till it looks like a creamy, yummy mixture that you can’t wait to taste. Turn off the blender before you do that, of course.